Jimmy: Hey everybody, welcome to the show. I'm Jimmy Gownley. Can you believe it? We are halfway through the first decade of Peanuts, 10% into this magnificent run by Charles M. Schulz. I'm your host, Jimmy Gownley. You might know me from my comic book series, Amelia Rules and my two graphic novels. Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up and The Dumbest Idea Ever.
Joining me are my co-hosts and pals and cartoonists themselves. He's a playwright, a composer, both for this podcast and for his band Complicated People. He's co-creator of the original comic book price guide, the Argosy price guide to comics, as well as being a cartoonist for such great strips as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells and Tangled River, Michael Cohen,
Michael: Hey there
Jimmy: He's the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a former vice-president of Archie comics and the current creator of Instagram sensation Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: Guys, I am so happy to be doing this podcast today. What-- for you out there in pod land, but we decided to do, because we originally thought, oh, well, we'll talk about one year of the strips in every single episode. And then we realized the strips are too good. So that's now spilled over into two episodes and who knows by the 1964, it might be eight episodes a year.
We can't control that. So we decided to there's just too much good stuff. That's why we can't control it. So we decided to split the decades up. We're going to end season one, right? The end of 1955, then we're going to take two weeks off. I think I'll get back to you on that by the end of the show, two weeks off.
And then we'll start back up again with 1956. So Michael and Harold give me your, your thoughts. Are, are we where you thought we would be creatively with Peanuts at this point, is it different in, in your mind having read it freshly versus what you used to think about it? Michael, why don't you, you start,
Michael: I think we're around a year or two ahead of where I expected to be.
I think generally in the past, I'd say if someone who was just starting to read Peanuts, I'd say, well, start around 1956, and now it's pretty clear that by ‘54, it was just totally going.
Jimmy: Yeah, I agree. 1954 was definitely a watershed year for me. I thought that was the year of the biggest explosive growth.
Harold what about you?.
Harold: When I was a kid, I was reading the 1960s strips primarily. So I think that was at least when I was reading them in these collections-- I was reading the comics themselves-- this for me would have been like maybe 1970 was when I start reading the strip in the newspaper. whenever I pick up the paper as a little kid.
But yeah, I think I have the same feeling as Michael, when I was a kid and I saw the 1950s strips, they felt lesser to me. I don't know how I'm going to be viewing Peanuts now when we get into the sixties, but it seems like Peanuts was way far more developed than I was expecting it to be at this point.
Just like you were. I think that's just a, it's surprising that he had gotten as far as he had gotten over those those five years. So yeah. When I look at it now, having started from 1950 compared to 1950, 1955 feels so Peanuts to me when I was looking at, from the other direction, not so much, but you know, it wasn't like it was, it wasn't Peanuts, but it just, the characters had a different look to them.
I wasn't used to the look of the fifties Peanuts. And so I was judging everything by a different standard, but yeah, he's, he's just so good at this point. And I was not expecting that.
Jimmy: when we were talking to Lex, Alexis Fajardo, who we had on as a guest a while ago, and he was talking about being inspired by Beowulf and things like that. And I went back and kind of looked at his work. And it's funny because it's not exactly the same thing as those, those early stories and, and Schulz is even further away from that. And the thing that's sort of stuck in my mind is. We're tyrannized by story these days. Okay. Like everything is the plot.
Everything is a spoiler. Everything is what happens next. Schulz doesn't have to deal with that at all. There's there's no story. What that allows though, is this unbelievable richness of character and theme to develop so that when he eventually gets to the point that he is telling stories, like long stories, you know, they have real heft and they have real-- stakes isn't the right word, but you're emotionally involved with it because you love these characters. It made me think of, of things like in the Lord of the Rings, where, you know, you spend so much time at the beginning of the book, just hanging out with the hobbits before the plot even starts. And the reason that that's important is because it just gives you something to care about when, when stuff happens later.
I think so much of that is lost today when everything is like, and we talked about this before this story arc, it's got to start here and end here. And Schulz has just given these four blocks every single day to just kind of create moments. And I'm loving that. And I want to see more of that in today's pop culture, but I'm not sure where the place for it is.
Harold: Wow. I'm, I'm agreeing with you on that, Jim. I think the idea that story has become this thing that people argue that a plot is correct. And I don't understand that it's kind of that fan service that comes out of the Marvel universe. I mean, that's, that's, what's defining movie going these days is this superhero world that has all of these different people that are all creating.
And here we have Schulz. Who's sitting in a room by himself drawing this and we're reading this collective work of 50 years in this concentrated manner. And I just joined the Writers Guild a couple of months ago for my work on mystery science theater. And I attended a workshop that they had, which was really nice of them to set up on how to do.
How to do formatting and scripts and how to tell scripts. And I was hearing the guy and I was like, this guy knows the rules, and he's trying to help you write a script that's going to reach a reader who then has to pass it to somebody important who might then want to buy your script for TV, including podcasts, TV, film.
And what he was saying, I've heard it and I've read it. I went to film school, but it just, I was just getting so disheartened as I was hearing him say, you know, it's all about action. It's all visual. Everything has to be this external thing and the rules that he was setting. So you want to get read?
I'm sure he's right. Pretty right. In terms of getting stuff read, but man, it's just, it's like, it's, it just feels like it's cutting off 85% of what storytelling could be because there are these strictures you have to do. If you're gonna do a multimillion dollar film that someone's going to get behind you. And that is what I love about reading Peanuts and Schulz.
It's one voice. It's one hand it's one mind, and you're getting to get inside of that every day. And every day is a little surprise and every day is a new revelation of these characters and he keeps it fresh and alive and exciting and real. And yeah. There isn't as much of that. Now I think in literature, maybe kids graphic novels and that sort of thing there is still that freedom to, to write something as long as it's not genre literature like, like Tolkien became genre literature, everybody wasn't yeah. Everyone's making their own Tolkien story and, and everything. Like, that's the sad thing when it comes out full blown into the world and everyone else was making a pale imitation of the full-blown thing ever since.
Jimmy: Right. Exactly. And often throwing out the thing that made the original work.
Harold: Exactly. Yeah.
Jimmy: Yeah. It's very, very strange.
Michael: Well, the newspaper comics, the dailies in particular couldn't really focus too much on story. The Sundays tended to be continuous. But one thing about Schulz that I was thinking about is most of the cartoonist this I know started off by imitating your heroes.
And you can follow the direct line and artists like Al Williamson started off imitating Alex Raymond, Barry Smith started off imitating Jack Kirby. You don't see that in Schulz at all. Like he had an original vision, right from the beginning.
Harold: If you had to think of one person that influenced Schulz more than anyone other in these five years, does anybody stand out?
Is there any one, one artist you could say, boy, I see of all of the Schulz's work this is the greatest influence I can see in his work.
Michael: Burne Hogarth
Jimmy: The dynamic anatomy is definitely there. I can't see anybody directly. The only thing I could think of is like New Yorker cartoonist cause he's going for a story sort of, you know, spare simplicity, which obviously served him well when he was going with the Saturday Evening Post cartoons. But I don't see a lot visually I, you know, in terms of him creating theme and variation.
Yeah. We talked about Krazy Kat, but not much.
Harold: Yeah. I think if you, if you look at like the Saturday Evening Post cartoons that were became series, I don't, I'm not an expert on this, but I, I did learn in the course of us reading these, that of all things, Henry the no dialogues strip in the late thirties, I think was a was a Saturday Evening Post magazine cartoon, where you get usually as a guest, a single panel of this, no, no dialogue comic, which when you think of Henry, the line is very spare. It's very simple, has to read very small kid, you know, bald kid. And and then you see, you see Little Lulu which came afterward, which ironically became more spare in the comic book world than I think it did as Marjorie Henderson Buell’s original version of the comic. I think it had like gray wash and was a little looser.
But you know, of what little I've seen. There is a hidden influence. And certainly Schulz mentioned it. That is almost gone from the face of the earth. So few people have seen it i s Skippy. We always talked about Skippy by Percy Crosby, which is something that he grew up with. It was like the kids strip.
It was very popular. It was considered sophisticated, I think, by a number of a number of people
Jimmy: Who also thought they were sophisticated.
Harold: Well, yeah, there you go. And yes Skippy had this, this, this really, that it was super popular. And I mean, even the peanut butter Skippy came from Skippy, although they kind of stole it.
Jimmy: Schulz was actually a witness in that trademark trial.
Harold: That's so crazy, but how, what a bitter battle for the family for years against, against the peanut butter company, because they were trading on something that they knew would be a very powerful for a kid who's helping their mom decide what they're buying at the supermarket in 1940 Skippy was a thing.
And, and it, his, his work for various reasons has, they just started to reprint a little bit of it, but it's not generally available. What little I've seen. I, I see, I mean, watching Skippy, sit at the curb, sit on the curb, talking with a friend or just talking to himself. Yeah, I see that. And I, I would guess that that may be the biggest influence.
And a guest Skippy was popular enough as a, as a peanut butter that, that the company that made the peanut butter apparently was using the imagery of Skippy to suggest suggests that this is something that kids would want to influence their parents to buy. And and then there was a, there was a lawsuit over over it because I guess the heirs of the, of Skippy for years, we're fighting the, the company behind Skippy peanut butter, because they said you had, you had appropriated this strip and its popularity to sell peanut butter.
Jimmy: Yeah. Schulz was actually a witness for the Skippy estate against the peanut butter company. And his, this, this battle lasted years
Harold: and years into the early eighties or something. It was crazy.
Jimmyl: Yeah. And his, his argument…
Michael: Didn’t he also sue them using the word Peanuts in their product.
Jimmy: Well, that's, it was a bitter bitter battle about that.
Harold: Well, that would be, you know, if Schulz liked the name Peanuts and thought it up, then we, I would definitely have a link to say, see, see what an influence.
Jimmy: Schulz argued that if you were going to steal two things from Skippy and you know that the general population at the time would have known, he said it was the picket fence and the lettering style, both of which are I think to this day, though, the logo for Skippy. Yeah. And why you'll never find it in my house. Jif! Don't go ripping off cartoonists.
Yeah. So listen, this is, this has just been so much fun and wonderful and it's been really great. What I did is just peel back the curtain a little bit. We're recording this in advance. So we sent out some preview episodes to, to various people in the nose.
Some VIP's to get their feedback, to get their comments and questions. And I have collected a lot of their questions. So if you guys are up for it, how about we go through the reader mail? And we see if we can answer some questions about Peanuts.
Michael: Sounds good.
Jimmy: All right. Great. So why don't we just take a break right now real early, but why not?
And then we'll come back and we'll do that.
Jimmy: and we're back. All right, guys. So listen. I have right here, a list of questions submitted to us by our first readers. So I'm just going to read them out and we'll see if we can answer any of them. You ready?
Michael and Harold: Yeah
Jimmy:. All right, Jimmy, enjoyed the show. As someone who only knows Peanuts from TV, what would you suggest I read to get acquainted. I tried starting at the beginning to follow along and have to say it was hard to get into. Is there a better place to start for neophytes? Good luck with the podcast Ted from Delaware. I didn't get anyone's permission to use their name. So I'm just using their first names.
Harold: People can surmise who that is. Delaware's not that big.
Jimmy: That's true. Yeah. So what do you
Jimmy: think if someone wanted to just get a sampling of Peanuts first place to look, where would you send someone if they couldn't do from 1950
Harold: The Peanuts specials. Just kidding.
Michael: I would think I'd probably say started in 1955. You'll know all the characters. You wouldn't have to go through kind of the painful adjustment, trying to figure out what their personalities are. They're pretty much set in stone at this point.
Harold: I think I'm biased based on my my childhood, but if I were to try to get someone to read at the sweet spot and just give the chance for them to get hooked on it, I'd say 1964-65 Peanuts would be a great place to start.
Yeah, those are good picks.
Jimmy: I would, I would say. I'm not sure how many of these are in print, but if you get one of the anniversary books, there's let Peanuts Jubilee, which was like the 25 year one, there's you don't look 35, Charlie Brown. There's a golden anniversary I know for the 50th and they give a pretty decent overview of, of different periods.
And that might give you an idea if this is going to be the kind of thing that you want to read, read long-term. But the one thing, you know, we were talking about the story you know, before the break and it is the type of thing it's, it's wonderful that way. I mean, we're reading it from the beginning to the end and that's an enriching experience and it's very fun and very funny.
But it's not necessary. The whole thing was designed to be you’ve never seen it before in your life. You pick up a newspaper that day it's the 3532nd strip. and you should be able to pick it up and, you know, at least get something out of it. So that's what I would do. I would just say, go on, on Amazon and see if you could find a cheap copy of I'm going to go with Peanuts Jubilee
Harold: That's a great one. All right. That's my, oh, and one other thing, if you really are into the, if you enjoy the Christmas specials or, or any of the animated specials, it requires a little bit of research, but if you have a favorite special, if you love the It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown or whatever,
Jimmy: Arbor Day
Harold: just do a little Google Google on that and see what year it came out and then back up a couple of years and you'll find stuff that is of that flavor.
Jimmy: Yeah. That's actually really true. And then later on and in the eighties they had something called the Charlie Brown and Snoopy show. So I'm not, I'm not sure if that's some of the animation you're talking about having seen, but some of those were completely adapted from the comic strips. So yeah, that's another, another good place to look.
Harold: Yeah, I can see why 1950 would be a little bit of a disconnect for some people. If that's where they're starting.
Michael: Well, I always sort of ignored the first two books that were around-- the Peanuts and More Peanuts. Cause they clearly didn't quite fit in with what I liked. Yeah.
Jimmy: And there is a, you don't lose points for doing that.
Well, I mean, in, in my estimation, in my mind, of course, they will look down on you for not reading the whole thing, but in the wider world, it's okay. You can just
start someplace else.
Harold: Yeah. And Jimmy, Jimmy is famous for whatever he starts something he's going to see it to the bitter end. If, if, if he loved Alice season one, he's going to see Alice season nine.
Jimmy: That's right. When Tommy's a grandfather, I'm still watching it. Flo's been off for seven seasons. I don't care.
Michael: Okay, but you're basically Charlie Brown on the mound when it starts raining and pouring and everybody else gives up and he's standing there in the rain. The last man standing.
Jimmy: All right. Here's our next question.
Enjoy listening to you guys. Talk about your own work. If you could poach one Peanuts character for your own work, who would it be and why? And that is from Paul in Florida.
Harold: Wow, I would, wow. That's it's well, it's, it's a, it's a toss up between Snoopy and Linus. Linus, as we've said before, is I think Michael said he's the most complex, complex character in modern Western literature or something along those lines. I, I so identified with Linus that he was real to me. I think I mentioned that in the very first podcast and that's so true.
I don't know what I do with him in my own work because he is just so incredibly rich and he lives in Schulz's world perfectly. I really, the only reason I choose Snoopy, I think is because I could probably find something to do with Snoopy. The problem is I wouldn't have Schulz's genius behind my version of it.
Michael: but you could do Linus and call him lioness. He could be the girlfriend of your main character..
Harold: yeah, that's right. Yeah. Sweetest beasts with Lioness. Hmm. Don't give me ideas. Well, now it's all established that I stole it from Peanuts so they could come after me. This is once this airs…
Jimmy: What about you Michael, and your sci-fi world, do you think he could find a room for one of these characters? And I assume also there, you know, it would be drawn in our style. It would be, but it would be the essence of the character we'd be swiping. Yeah.
Michael: Well, out of the three of us, I think I'm the only one who really wasn't inspired by Schulz because I was never. I never really wanted to do a comic strip or a kid’s strip or something cartoony. So I would say since then, I really haven't, I didn't learn anything from Schulz because I was not trying to do anything like him.
Yeah. So I don't think any of those characters would work in, in the worlds I've created.
Jimmy: Hmm. I don't know. I could see--
Michael: I could see the personalities are amazing.
Jimmy: I could see you importing Charlie Brown. I absolutely could see that. It would be a totally different world. He wouldn't be playing baseball. and, you know, be three heads high, but I could see that.
Harold: He’d be playing Spaceball
Michael: I could see having a, like a robot character, like Snoopy, who has that kind of personality.
Jimmy: Oh yeah. I could see that
Michael: like a little flying robot.
Jimmy: Like a Roshi
Harold: Like Twiki from Buck Rogers
Jimmy: Can’t get enough Twiki references. Did you know, Twiki was voiced by Albert Payson Terhune?
Jimmy: That's true.
Oh, I guess I should answer that question. I think I would go with Snoopy cause I don't have a good animal character in Amelia and I think that could be really fun. It would have to be some sort of some sort of side thing where Ameilia isn't aware of Snoopy's flights of fancy, you know, to keep the reality of the Amelia world. She would just, you know, see him as a dog. But I think that could be really fun. See now I want to steal that. Oh, this is a good question, but unfortunately it's going to lead us to lawsuits.
Harold: I can see that. Yeah.
Jimmy: I definitely won't be doing that! (scribble scribble)
Michael: Yeah, great question
Harold: That's right. We, we have to entertain it and then dismiss it just as quickly to protect ourselves. Who's this Schmoopy character.
Jimmy: Alright. What other comic strip would you like to see a podcast like yours cover? It's from Mary in Pennsylvania. Do you think there is another podcast? I actually do have, I have one right off the top of my head. I think Doonesbury, I think, I think there's a case to be made that Doonesbury is the great American novel. Because it's such a political strip, you know, it doesn't seem to have legs in a way, right? Because the, the events of that day are so far in the past that they don't seem to have any relevance to us. But I think the characters are amazing. They grow and they change there's that soap opera element to it. That's a little like Gasoline Alley and that think they age and have children and get married and divorced.
And it's really intimidating for someone to come to. Yeah. So that would be my pick. I think you could do a really good Doonesbury podcast. The Doonesbury dossier.
Michael: I favored Bloom County at that time.
Jimmy: Loved Bloom County.
Michael: That was my fave. But even, I mean, all my favorite strips, like Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes, and Doonesbury, I don't think I could come up off the top of my head with a particular favorite, like something I've I've memorized.
Whereas with Schulz, they could probably just off the top of my head, come up with 50 Peanuts strips that I've remembered my whole life.
Harold: Yeah. I, I can't think of a strip. I mean, there's Peanuts and then there's everything else. I can't think of a strip that I would want to personally spend the time or if I was listening to somebody else's version of it.
I, I, there's just, it's just Peanuts for me. I can't think of something that I would want to go through the whole. I mean, well, maybe I would, I would love to learn more about Skippy by Percy Crosby. I would love to, to learn more about that strip because it is one of those things just because of inaccessibility is just disappeared off the face of the earth?
So I'd be intrigued. I don't know what I'd like if I actually got there, if I I'd be that into it, but it's one I'd love to know more about.
Jimmy: I mean, there are certainly comics there's there's dozens and dozens of comic strips that deserve close scrutiny, but I don't know how well they would support a podcast.
I mean, Krazy Kat. You couldn't have someone sitting, reading crazy cat cartoons to you and hoping you could convey anything to it. The same with Pogo, you couldn't do that. Although Pogo like, like Doonesbury, it could benefit from that because you could, if someone knew, like if you had an historian and an artist talking about Doonesbury or Pogo or something like that, that could be really interesting because you you'd have the, the background to understand all the stuff that's going on in the wider cultural context.
Harold: of what if we had a podcast where we had Doonesbury and Mallard Fillmore read
at the same time, day by day.
Michael: Well, the obvious answer is Mary Worth cause that's a story and since none of us would ever read a Mary Worth.
Harold: oh, I take this all back. I know what I would do. I would do a Little Orphan Annie, hands down.
Jimmy: All right now how long-- that window that went from the thirties to the seventies. Right? So it's
Harold: a, well, it was by the original artist.
It was from I think it was like 1924. It was some something like, I think 1924 to 1968. So it's a 44 year run almost as long as Schulz and singular voice. Talk about yeah, a strong voice in, in comics. He, he was he was the Pied Piper for, I think a lot of readers as a little kid. I, I stumbled on this trip.
Most people only know little orphan Annie because of the musical right now as Annie, but the original strip is not at all like Annie. So that's, that's the trick to Little Orphan Annie. Those people who would absolutely love this strip, don't think it is what it is. And the people that think they might like it because they liked the musical would go back to the strip and go what's this.
So it, it deserves discussion. It's something that provokes a tremendous amount of thought and discussion because he, he had some controversial stands and he was highly influential. So in his, in his time, particularly during the depression and war years.
Jimmy: the Canadian cartoonist graphic novelist, or whatever Chester Brown, who, who his entire drawing style has essentially been subsumed by, by the Harold Gray style in recent years, he has obviously a huge Little Orphan Annie fan.
And his idea would be, was to go through and edit it like one of the longer sequences so that you take out all of the repetition that is just inherent in a daily strip cause you have to tell the people what happened the day before assuming they missed it and kind of like tease what's happening next and see if he could construct an actual graphic novel out of it.
Harold: I think that would be an amazing, amazing task to take on, especially someone who really, really loves that strip. Are you guys familiar with this? That that strip was actually a daily strip every day was a new day on that strip. And so Harold Gray set a ridiculous bar for himself where usually there's a, maybe a big action on the Sunday page where he had lots of panels.
The big thing would happen on a Sunday. And then Tuesday through Monday through Saturday is is Annie talking to Sandy about what happened on Sunday and just re recollecting it every single day as if it's a new day really, really hard to do. And he pulled it off. I was not aware that he was doing that.
I read it. I read years and years, decades worth of those strips as a little kid and loved it. And I had no idea that he, that that's actually what the strip was doing. I was just pulled into it. I didn't know. He had said, oh, I can't just be 15 minutes later in the strip for Monday to Tuesday. It's it all has to be just a snapshot of a day.
And that that's, that's just crazy to me.
Michael: The thing is that Schulz’s art is so iconic and simplified that even in a media, like a podcasting where there is no visualI could say Patty and Violet are walking down the street in profile and you can see it. Whereas if I said to Annie, Annie, and Daddy Warbucks or walk into a store, it could be from any angle, different times a day.
So I think, I think we made a good decision here to go with Peanuts rather than Nancy.
Jimmy: I definitely think it was a good decision cause it's one of only three things I can discuss. So it works out great Beatles, Baseball, Peanuts.
Harold: Joe Shlabotnick.
Jimmy: Joe Shlabotnick, where it all comes together.
Hi guys, you talk about the different tools Schulz used to draw. For the layman, can you discuss the differences and explain why for instance, someone would choose to use that pen rather than a brush or even a marker. And question two, when does Woodstock show up. Marianne from Virginia.
Harold: Thanks Marianne from Virginia.
Jimmy: Why would someone choose to use a specific tool anyway? Any thoughts?
Harold: Well, Jim you've used that tool. I I've, I've played with just a very little and you've talked, you've spoken to this. Cause I think once you get it in your hand and you dip it in a little well of India ink and you put it on the paper, all of a sudden, some things start to click as an artist when you have read Schulz's work for so long. What, what was your experience when you, when you first were laying down some lines with that pen?
Jimmy: It was very difficult-- at first, and the reason is I spent, and I'm not claiming that I'm a great inker or anything like that, but I'm just, you know, the process by which I got to whatever level I'm at.
I spent a long, long, long, long time trying to learn to ink with a dip pen. Cause I think when you start, and generally you start with the Hunt 102, which is like your basic Crow Quill pan, which you know, is a little metal thing, you stick it in a plastic pen holder and you dip it in a tiny little bottle
Harold: and then impossible.
Jimmy: You have to hold it a very specific way. You have to hold that at a very specific angle to the paper. You can't, you can't push it forward. You can only pull it and slide. It takes years and years and years to figure out how to do that. And that's easier than the brush, which is the other tool. People like Walt Kelly would use.
Harold: Right. So somebody who's never used one of these things, essentially, if it's a brush, it's a whole, you know, you've seen, you've seen people seen the brush types of brushes people would be doing painting with. It's it's long and it's thin, and it comes to comes to a point and it, and it's super flexible, right?
So you, you dip it in ink and you start to lay it on the paper. It's going to go from a very thin line to a very thick line based on the angle, the the pressure you're putting, how close you are to the paper. And there's no feedback.
Jimmy: None. You can’t feel that it's touching the paper with the brush.
Harold: So you are having to be entirely visual.
And, you know, I think what a lot of artists do, certainly what I did to be able to do it at all, because I just didn't have the control is you have to create your own feedback, like by putting your, the side of your pinky on the paper, and then you're holding the brush and your your thumb and your index finger and and maybe your third finger.
And then you're, you're basically moving down slowly against your pinky to get a sense of how close you are to the paper and how thick a line you might get based on the amount of pressure you're feeling on your pinky. And at least that's how I was doing it. And in the case of these, these dip pens and Schulz was pretty much exclusively dip pens for the lettering.
He used a different dip pen than he used for the actual actual character art. That dip pen usually has what, like a, a split down the middle of a pointed, somewhat stiff piece of metal. They basically split it down the middle so that when you put pressure on the paper, that pen will start to spread a little bit and the ink is flowing down through that, that split.
And so however much pressure to separate. The two parts of the pinpoint is how wide or thick a line you're going to get. And Jim, Jimmy, when you were working with that that nib, I think you'd said it was originally designed for handwriting, penmanship. Which is unusual.
Jimmy: Penmanship. That’s what makes it so hard. And the reason like Harold was saying, you know, about the brush or the, or the Crow Quill pen, the reason you're choosing those particular types of tools is it allows you to give that thick, thin line. The brush more so. The brush you're focusing on the microscopic point where those little bristles touch the paper and you can make something that's insanely thin. And then by just applying a little bit of pressure, you can make something that's really thick. When you're starting out it's a mess. If you become a master, it's beautiful.
A pen is slightly easier than that, but you don't get the variety of thick, thin. It was perfect for Schulz because he's working in such small boxes, but he worked on the Radio 914 from Esterbrook. We looked that up and I got, I bought a few when I was doing a Peanuts tribute for an anniversary book and I couldn't make it work at all.
And this was having just finished inking an entire graphic novel with the Hunt 102 Crow quill and that's-- so I started researching it online and realized, oh, this is a, this is a penmanship. This was something that students would use to write in notebooks with. So I started thinking, well, let's see what it's like to write with it.
So I just started writing, you know, dipping and then writing cursive, writing in a notebook and suddenly it flowed it's like, oh, all of those things I was worried about with the Hunt 102 are not really present in this one. This one's designed for speed. So then when you think about it, that's what you do.
You just go in there and-- [sfx] as quickly as you conceivably can and without paying too much attention to the position of your hand, and it starts making these lines that look like Peanuts. Now you can't draw as well. So it's never exactly right, but it's an, a really exciting moment where you're like, oh, I see how he did it.
This is, this is one of the magic ingredients to making this visual style work. And I do. And I think the reason he chose this particular one is, well, there's probably three reasons. One, he was obviously just facile with it. And part of what you choose to draw with. It's just based on what you like, just the pleasure of drawing and what makes you happy when you draw.
So that was it. The other thing is the size being small, led him to a pen rather than a brush. And the third thing is speed because everybody else was having assistants or, or 99% of all cartoonists was, were having assistants. do a lot of the work and Schulz was doing it all himself. So economy of line and time we're really important.
Harold: Like when you were talking about the Hunt 102 that you were using, that's a very flexible nib and with a very, very fine point. I mean, you could, you could like scrape, scrape the board you're drawing on if you put the wrong angle on this, because it's, it's sharp. You, you, you're gonna, you're gonna prick yourself.
Jimmy: I actually have a scar on my pinky from where one fell and stabbed me. So yes, they are very sharp.
Harold: And to me, the Hunt 102 is like the the stick of automobile stick transmission of, of pen points. I could never get the thing to work to me. The Radio 914, which makes sense, because this is for, for children learning penmanship, it has to be the friendliest and the most flex--.
I shouldn't use the word flexible, but the friendliest, the friendliest tool for somebody who is new, I mean, the whole idea was made for somebody that was almost a full point because you dip it and the ink flows nicely for quite a long time before you have to dip it again. And it gives character to the line, no matter where you, you, you twist and turn or you move it one way or another, it keeps giving out the ink, but it, it has this character of, and you'll see it in Schulz's strips.
And particularly, you know, a few years into the strip where we are now, there's always character to the line. But as Jim was saying, it's kind of effortless. You don't fight the pen. You don't have to nuance the pen. You just let the pen do what the pen does. And it creates this unique look and because no one else was using a lettering pen Schulz had a unique look because he found something that was really clever and was very effective at giving character to his line.
No one else had it.
Jimmy: Yeah. And it's funny too, because he he's talked about it in articles or interviews, rather, I think in Comics Journal, but might be elsewhere where, you know, rather to get the thick, thin, instead of pressing harder, he would change the angle with which the pen meets the paper. So a lower anger angle will give you with a fatter line and like that's the angle you have to use to get the lines on Snoopy's doghouse, you know, and then you have to go upright almost on this point when you're wanting to do the little you know, blades of grass. It's really actually just a fun. I love, I I've moved onto brush pens now because I have a hand tremor, which is not to be, don't be concerned. I've always had it, but as I get older, I like to, I have a pretty heavy hand. So I use a brush pen and it gives me a lot of a lot for the same reason Schulz chose his pen, I think. And you know, part of it is, is ease and economy for the time that goes into it. But every time I I pull out the old Crow Quill, or one of the 914 I still have. I miss drawing with those they're really great tools.
Michael: but we have to talk about Woodstock.
Jimmy: Oh Woodstock, when the Woodstock show up? Well, he shows up early-- there's birds from the early fifties, but he doesn't get named Woodstock until after the music festival.
Michael: I think it's 66 or 65
Jimmy: 66 or 65 is the first appearance of the bird that looks like Woodstock. Yeah. But birds appear really, really early and he's not, he is named for the music festival for some reason. Oh.
Michael: So, and that was 69,
Michael: 9 Oh, okay.
Jimmy: Come on. You're a baby boomer. How do you not know?
Harold: So I'm doing it doing my little Google thing. It says the first appearance, according to a, hopefully a reliable source online the first appearance is in 1967, but gets the name in June of 1970.
So I've been a full year after Woodstock the festival in 1969, right. So, yeah, it is interesting. It seems like Schulz was kind of dipping into what was going on in pop culture in a very oblique way, but it, it works. It kind of gave him this, this sense of cool. It's weird just by naming this little bird Woodstock because I, you know, the actual, you guys can speak to this better than I can, but the actual Woodstock festival, the logo for that was a bird.
Jimmy: right. Yeah, you're right. I never thought about the dove of peace on the guitar.
Harold: And Melanie had that hit song. I don't know when lay down, let your, Let your white bird-- and I don't know when that came out, but everyone was still talking about Woodstock for quite a while that that whole event is not, not Woodstock the bird, but and it must've been something that sounded cool to Schulz. And without him having to introduce anything particularly hip into the strip, just using that name, I think somehow equated him in the minds of of people with, with something that people generally thought really highly of it. That's brilliant choice on his part.
Michael: The other cartoonists at the time we're sort of making fun of the hippie thing.
I know Archie, They had a lot of characters, hippie characters, and people starting to dress that way, but they were always, always had flies buzzing around on their face. Al Capp too.
Little Abner got really anti sixties culture. but by just making it a cute little bird who didn't talk, it was kind of a friendly thing.
Jimmy: Right. And weirdly it seems like a good name for a bird.
My favorite commentary on the Woodstock festival comes from Bill Maher of all people who said, wow, you got to see Arlo Guthrie and Shanana on the same weekend? They should make a movie about that.
But yeah, so that's Woodstock.
Clearly Schulz influence comic strips greatly, but do you see his influence anywhere else in the wider comedy sphere, Chris from California?
Michael: Well, that's a good one. Well, you guys watch a lot of sitcoms. Does anything sort of pick up on that?
Jimmy: The two things that I thought about, and this is Seinfeld in the fact that it's minute observations about very small incidents, which especially early Peanuts very much is the other thing is, and although this is he is currently canceled, but the Woody Allen, the early Woody Allen character, I think has a lot to do with Charlie Brown, you know, probably other things like obviously like Charlie Chaplin and stuff go in there as well.
Those are the first things I thought of a lot of it really is unique to him, I guess.
Harold: I think he was hugely influential on a lot of people. I think he, he broadened the scope of what you could do in pop culture. It was a lot more I don't know. I mean, when I think of Schulz, I think of quietness and dignity in his humor mixed with a little bit of of, of fancy or flights of fancy, and that is such a warm space to be in.
And then of course, you know, certainly mixing in the, the issues of the neuroticism. You could say of Charlie Brown that would, you would think of, you know, the, the lineage of that Woody Allen up through Larry David. You definitely see that, but there is, there is this this. There is this, I don't know-- there is a quiet center in certain parts of Peanuts that when people saw how it resonated with themselves, as well as the culture at large, it's very hard to make art that is done by a committee, which is all television, all film, all animated, most, all animated cartoons, unless, you know, Bill Clinton or somebody.
Yeah, exactly. And he, he definitely showed that that type of work could resonate deeply, but it's very, very hard to replicate when you get outside of one or two people doing the, the art, it lives in those places. It certainly lives in comics. I don't know if it lives in literature. It'd be interesting to think about who may have been influenced by Peanuts, maybe growing up and then 10, 20 years later, you start seeing that in literature,
Michael: Maybe Shel Silverstein? I mean, I'm thinking kid’s literature.
Harold: I think that's, that's a good connection. I think that's definitely, it would've been a much harder road for Shel Silverstein. I think if there hadn't been a Schulz and I think Jules Feiffer as well, when I think of Shel Silverstein, but he, yeah, I think.
Schulz was proving something and you know, the term I always think of. And I, I always smile when he says, when I think of what he said, that he wanted to prove that there was a market for innocence putting the word market and innocence together is so Charles Schulz, but it it's so captures an aspect of what he did that nobody else did he, you know, market with a dignity, it's like a little marketplace where he's, he's come to the marketplace and he's a
Jimmy: Get your dignity, get your dignity right here
Harold: Yeah, exactly. But that totally resonates with me that he, he saw it that way. He was, he was giving dignity to his own dignity.
Jimmy: I have a weird thought that's popped into my head To Kill a Mockingbird because it's a child's view of the world told as if it's happening to the child, but it's told with the sophisticated language of an adult.
You could see that. I mean, it's not a riot obviously, but there is humor in it.
Jimmy: I mean, I can see that I have no idea. That's 10 years after Schulz started, so it could have been out there.
Harold: Well, I can say to the question that was asked about influence this may or may not shed any light on this, but when toward the end of Schulz's life, it was made known to the public that he was in the hospital.
This would have been what, 1999, you know, the year before the strip is ending, that Schulz was in the hospital and things were somewhat serious. And I had a friend, Jamie Causley who created a gigantic like Bristol board or poster board get well card. And he was unable to go to this comic convention that he knew I was going.
I think it was mid Ohio con in 1999. And I was just selling my printing services at the time when I was going table to table, speaking to all the people behind the tables. And he said, could you take this get well card? And he'd just drawn on the front a little Peanutsy thing. Can you take it around to the comic book convention and and see if people will sign it.
And I went to so many different places and everybody--- I’m getting broken up here.
Everybody wanted to sign that card. I mean, Dawn Wells who was Mariana Gilligan's island was a guest there and she was like, oh, oh yes. I want to sign this. Lou Ferrigno, the Hulk he signed it. Cartoonists doing some of the darkest stuff you could imagine. We're like, oh, they just melted. Yeah, I got to, I got to sign this.
It was pretty amazing.
Jimmy: Yeah. I mean, it is the type of influence that is a lot deeper than just a pen on line or just, just a style of joke telling, and I don't think ultimately it's replicatable. It reminds me too, of things like Jimmy Hendrix or Eddie van Halen, or even like Bob Dylan or something like that.
Yeah. I want to hear them do it. But I, I don't want to hear anybody who's ever been influenced by Eddie van Halen because they can't do it. You, you can, you can get the, the tricks, you can learn the licks, but if you don't have the brain to connect them to realize that you're building it from the inside out, it's not just a gloss you're putting on the top. It doesn't really work. And I think that's when Schulz, who is obviously doing something from so completely personal a space you know, it's, it's hard to replicate that. It really is.
Michael: Well, the one guy who's succeeded, even though it wasn't an attempt to be funny was Jaime Hernandez who occasionally would take his Love and Rockets characters and do a little story from there, their childhood done in a very Schulz style.
And they're very poignant and they're not gag strips. Maybe he sort of remembers his childhood. It's looking
Jimmy: His pen-- Oh, that's interesting. Yeah. Cause he would equate reading the strip and those types of strips with his own childhood. That might be true. You know, the other interesting thing about that, going back to the pen question is Hernandez’ pen, although I don't know what the actual name of it is is a, a larger dip pen, like the, like the, the radio 914.
So he has a leg up on people and also he's a genius. So that helps in his work.
Michael: It's cheating, being a genius
Jimmy: It really does. It's not fair.
All right, Nick from Bellingham writes One, the emotions in the strip are often naturalistic, but the language isn't, the dialogue is slightly stilted and that serves the humor.
Well, how would you describe that tone?
Harold: That's really interesting. Yeah,
Michael: that's a tough one. I think it still did because. If you'd watch being, watching kids TV at that time, those were very stilted. I mean, it's adults writing the way they think kids talk. And of course the kids are just memorizing the script.
So they're kind of stilted in that way. It never struck me that the language was stilted and then
Jimmy: no, it really didn't strike me that way either. It's it's formal. It strikes me as this was, this was clearly written by someone in dress slacks and a polo shirt. This was not, you know, this is someone who was a very professional or formal, like, I don't know, there's, there's a level of, of erudition he's he has as a person.
And the partly comes from being a being, you know, an autodidact. He was, he was self-taught I think most of this stuff that it's maybe possibly self-conscious and I think that he just writes the characters voices, the way he talks.
Harold: Yeah. I mean of the three of us, I might be closest to Schulz in, in temperament in some ways.
And I grew up in the Midwest. I had there was a formality I think, in, in my family. And so I totally relate to him writing in this way. And I, the term that always pops to my mind when I think about that, that formality or stiffness is when he has the characters using the term not unlike this isn't, it's not, it's not like, you know, it's not like something it's not, I don't know. It's just, it's, it's just such a, an odd way to get to a phrase.
And I do relate to the formality and I totally put that in when I first was drawing my little wild lion character that's now in the Sweetest Beasts strip on Instagram, I initially was just drawing him by himself. He was this loner character.
He was often just that he was, he was the whole strip. He would just be talking to us the audience or to himself. And he has this very formal way of speaking sometimes, particularly when he's by himself, when he's with others, he seems to sometimes loosen up a little bit. But the whole initial joke of the wild lion character was he's this little tiny, you know, got a full mane adult lion character.
But he, he looks like a little baby. And, but he's the way he speaks his and the initial line he ever had was “I am a wild lion that cannot be tamed.” And that, that formality to this lion was very funny to me. And I know that comes from Schulz. That that absolutely comes from that style of writing that I grew up with that is just I’m imprinted to.
Jimmy: Well, you're actually a prescient Harold, because the next question also from Nick says how much is it a strip for introverts? It seems like the characters are often happier when they're by themselves. And yet the interactions between them are the heart of the strip. It wouldn't be as endearing if you didn't care about the connections and relationships between the characters.
I think in some ways, all comics are for introverts. I mean, you know, you're sitting by yourself and you're happy being ensconced in someone else's fantasy world. That’s a pretty easy thing to do.
Harold: And also the idea that I used to think, well, if you want to have it, get attention for yourself and you could be a standup and you could get up and in real time, tell jokes and get feedback from an audience. Or you could go down to the art store, buy a bunch of equipment that’s incredibly hard to learn how to use, start to draw on a piece of paper and spend 10 hours creating something that someone's going to read in 15 seconds. Right. That's ___ the work of introvert,
Jimmy: Right. Yeah. It is the number one job skill of being a cartoonist is wanting to sit quietly by yourself.
Harold: Yeah. So, yeah, totally. I totally think that's as a strip that I, as an introvert, as a very shy kid, growing up totally related to it, you know, you'd not having as many interactions with actual human beings I think as an, as an introvert, you're often more in inside your own mind. And Peanuts was a welcome place to go where something, someone else's mind who's gentle and quiet as, as a rule or at least, you know, the, the voice behind the voice, there might be something raucous going on in the strip, but there's, again, that, that dignity, that trustworthiness of Schulz, I think shines through the work.
He, he has an integrity to him that, you know, as a little, little shy kid, I, I happily welcome Charles Schulz into my mind through that strip. And I related to the characters. I said Linus was more real to me than my next door neighbor. And that's, I don't know. I don't know how that works. But that I can honestly say that's, that's the way I saw the world as a little kid. Schulz was powerfully speaking to me in this quiet way and I could relate to that and I could absorb that and just live in there and then have no, no resistance. No, no filters. You know, my next door neighbor, I had filters with Schulz I could just opened my heart and trust that he was going to take me somewhere that I wanted to go.
Jimmy: And Michael, the second part is, is right up your alley because he's talking about the humor coming out of the connections between the characters.
Do you have anything to say about that? It seems like this is something that's really, if not unique to Schulz, it's certainly a trademark of his.
Michael: Yeah, no, that's definitely why I liked it. Is he managed to create these very vivid characters with very little to work with, I mean, in terms of lines or expressions, and we don't know their history, we don't know anything about them really, but the way they interact with each other tells us everything we need to know.
And it's a very small world. I mean, at this point where we are at the end of 1955, there's what did we? Seven characters?
Jimmy: Seven or eight, right.
Michael:. Yeah. Well, a couple of them got dropped.
Jimmy: Charlotte Braun. RIP
Michael: Yeah. And identified with having this small world. Cause I did not want to have, I also was, you know, pretty much stay in my room kind of person.
So there might've been five or six people I knew. You know, at school I'm not going to be, you know, palling it up with everybody. Yeah. So the world felt very comfortable to me. It's like, I don't have to deal with all these other people’s and certainly not adults, if I can help it.
Jimmy: All right. That actually, that's a great point, Michael, because there is that sort of fantasy aspect of it is just the world of kids.
And I love that. I love things like, I mean, there are adults in the Little Rascals and stuff, but when they would just do their adventures, all of them together and they'd build a car or they'd have their clubhouse. I loved that because it was this alternate, fun world of just kids, you know, like the Lord of the Flies, stuff like that.
I always liked those things.
And this is from Richard and Helen also in Washington. Open white space in the graphics, make the strips stand out in text. Do we have anything to comment about that? I actually think that's a huge reason for the success of the strip is the sparity of the style. And when you see early newspapers or newspapers from this period, I should say, they're chaotic. There's a lot of gray noise everywhere and having a very spare clean style the white space jumps out at you.
Michael: That segues nicely into our next segment.
Jimmy: Yeah, I had a great question from Rich in California. I can say his whole name, Rich Thomas cause he's my old college roommate. He listened to a couple of our episodes and he said, Hey, a great idea would be why don't you look at a newspaper from October 2nd, 1950, and talk a little bit about that. See what Peanuts looked like in the newspaper in context the first day it came out. I thought that was a great idea. So that's how we're going to wrap up our season one finale right now. We are going to look at the Chicago Tribune from October 2nd, 1950. I wanted to get the Allentown paper, but it seems like that has vanished off the face of the earth. If anyone out there can find it, it's not the Allentown Morning Call. It's the evening paper.
And I thought we'd just take a couple of minutes, wrap up season one here by looking at the very first day of Peanuts in context in the newspaper. So guys, I, I have sent you this document to your emails. If you have it ready, let's take a look. Okay.
Michael: Well, we were just talking, well, the question was about the, the open space and Peanuts, right?
I'm looking at the front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune. It's absolutely insane. It has eight columns of like tiny print. It's probably got like 20 different stories on this front page. It's just a mess. No one today could possibly read this newspaper. Everyone's attention span is too short. Just skip this and go straight to the comic page.
And if you go to page, is that page three, you see another really crammed page with ads and then there's like five strips, five daily strips.
Jimmy: Well, we should, that's just page three on our document. That might not be page three of the newspaper.
Michael: Okay. But if this is the comic page, it's very odd because it's like a quarter of the page is comics and Peanuts...
Jimmy: Before we go into that, let's let's look at page one because I don't. Okay. So, so the first, yeah, I mean,
Michael: I can't even deal with this. It's an total like information overflow
Jimmy: It really is. I mean, like Michael said is an insane amount of information. Something, one thing that I really noticed, that's interesting is that a) boy it's right wing the Chicago Tribune of 1950 and b) it's a, has no photographs on the front page, but it does have a cartoon.
Which is pretty wild to see on the front page of a major newspaper. And it is a Harry Truman who was walking away from the appeasement of Russia and accidentally stepping into a bear trap, labeled the appeasement of red China saying, “Yessir. That was a mistake.” Meaning appeasing red Russia.
Harold: And the headline. The headline is “Reds Ignore Surrender Bid,” which reminds me I had, I had a friend in college, Jeffrey Winters, and I think he grew up in Martinsville, Indiana. And he had told me that his newspaper was also very conservative, but one of the headlines in the paper in his town was “Brezhnev where all dead reds go” when, when Brezhnev died.
Jimmy: So, everything old is new again.
Harold: I mean, and, and the Sun, the Sun was on the opposite side of it. And this, I mean, this is, this is a newspaper that is known that, I mean, Chicago has always been quite a crazy city and there were people who were killed not just one selling newspapers for turf selling newspapers between these competing gangs.
So Chicago is crazy. And the fact that they picked, their editor picked Peanuts is one of the seven newspapers to have the very first Peanuts in October 2nd, 1950 is, is really interesting. I wonder what the thinking was behind it, and it's so cool to see a second cartoon on the front page.
Jimmy: “It starts today, Peanuts.”
Harold: And it's got that classic little cartoon with this sign that says, “Watch out for children.” And it's got two little kids, each looking different directions, trying to find any of them, any below the sign.
Michael: So what it signifying is amidst this chaos of the reds ignoring surrender and South Korea patrol and all this horrible news, there’s this little island of tranquility, where there's just little kids, Charlie Brown and Shermy and they're adorable. And that's on the front page.
Jimmy: And to speak to the comment about the white space, boy that shows it right there. It is-- Please look it up. If you get a chance or, you know what, I'm sure we could post it somewhere on our social media.
Like Michael says it is a mass of just gray noise and Peanuts not only is it popping out by the white space, it looks about 10 years more modern than anything else on the page. Crazy. It's funny too. Cause not all just right-wing propaganda and terrible stuff about the upcoming Korean war, but you also get things like “Bushman gets out of cage, bites keeper.”
Michael: Bushman was a gorilla
Jimmy: assuming, you know what Bushman is, Bushman is a gorilla apparently that escaped.
The Phillies won the national league pennant. That's on the front page of a Chicago paper for some reason. Totally weird. Really strange, really strange along with the weather too. So yeah, and then you'll see, as you go through, there are some comic strips sprinkled throughout. It's not just on the comics page.
So should we, should we do a one quick episode, the next strip we see we'll do a an episode of Unpacking Timmy. Cause the first comic strip for the first comic we see is called Timmy, but I cannot read the guy's signature and I've never heard of this strip before. Looks like a Katzenjammer Kids knock off by someone who couldn't draw as well. Sorry, whoever drew Timmy.
So here's what here. So Timmy:
October 2nd, 1950 Timmy's dad, I assume, enters a room. He is holding a detective kit, which he shows to his two young boys and says, “here's a present boys.” The boys take everything out and throw it all over the floor and say to their mom,”look, mom, our detective said has everything.” The mother stands with hands on hips and says, “goodness, did a victim come with a set?” And I assume Timmy says, “oh no, mom.” Then the two children with murderous looks on their face run after their father saying, “The set came with the victim.”
Michael: This is actually pretty good. I can see Harvey Kurtzman doing something like this. Yeah, you're right. Let's do the next podcast.
Harold: Although I did notice that, that the dad is taller than the door jam there. He would, he would have hit his head coming in the door, but that's actually a pretty well done, little strip and clean in, in, in sort of in that, that modern, late forties, early fifties toward going toward UPA kind of style. There's a little bit of that in there.
Jimmy: There's a little bit of like a Barnaby. It's like a cross between Katzenjammer Kids and Barnaby. If you can imagine such a thing. You don't have to imagine it-- it's right there in Timmy.
Harold: Large lettering too,
Jimmy: But does not pop out in that we'll see, Peanuts or in the same way as the Peanuts ad does because it is much more busy artwork. Formatted as a square though. So it's, it's a space saving strip as well.
And we can see TWA is now offering flights direct to London and Germany, from Chicago. So that's pretty good. That's a big deal. You can't beat that. A lot of advertising for a lot of strange things
Harold: yeah. “Gray hair almost cost me my job.” Use Color Back.
Jimmy: And you can get a curl tight permanent for just $3 dollars and.95 cents.
Harold: And finally gloves that meet your sleeves.
So then we turn to the, we actually can see what appears to be the comics page. I actually, I don't have the entire newspaper, so there may be other comics that we're not seeing, but we're looking at the page now that has Peanuts on it. And it is one of five strips, Gasoline Alley, Brenda Starr, Winnie Winkle and Harold Teen.
Oh, let's let's do Unpacking Harold Teen since we have our own Harold right here. Ready?
Harold and Michael: Sure. Go for it.
October 2nd, 1950 A businessman at a building called Auto Loans says, “that's the most I can lend you on the car.” Harold Teen says, “well, just so it will see me through this first semester.”
The businessmen says, “what happens then?” as Harold hands over his cash. Harold says, “I'm looking forward to a scholarship that another guy has got.” Now the businessman watches Harold Teen drive away saying, “you mean, he's just going to drop out?” Harold says, “oh, somebody might open a trap door under him.”
Michael:I don't get it.
Michael: you have to explain it
Jimmy: First off Harold Teen looks like Archie, If Archie put on about 50 pounds and got punched in the face a lot. Harold's a rough looking teen. He looks about 48.
Michael: So unpack this for us.
Harold: Harold Teen had been around for a long time. Right? I mean, he dates back years and years. And you notice that the each strip has a slug line for the name of the strip.
That's kind of pasted over the upper left-hand corner of the strip all in the same, very bold font, which is almost the Cooper font that Archie used, which kind of makes you think of Archie as well. I believe that every single one of these strips is a Tribune syndicate strip. In other words of this newspaper, the Chicago Tribune had its own comic strip syndicate, and these are strips that are part of its its output.
And that's why all of these had the same, that same font. In fact, I remember seeing Little Orphan Annie strips, which was also a Tribune syndicate strip using that same font for years in these reprint books I was reading.
So I think these are all their own strips and that's what makes it all the more interesting that beneath these four strips in the upper right corner of this page is Peanuts taking up not five columns, but four, and using a completely different font to describe Peanuts, which is actually above the strip, not in the strip because at the time Schulz had not started there. The, the thing of, of dropping the first word balloon down so that they could do what they did to Harold Teen, by putting the name of the strip into the place where the artists had drawn.
So they just put it above in a little its own long four, four column box. And it says Peanuts, then a bunch of dots with white space in a box all the way to the end of the fourth panel, where it says by Schulz. So it's got a different feel. It almost looks like it shouldn't be there.
Jimmy: It really looks like it shouldn't it.
If there's two things I would've thought, I think if I would have come across this as an adult reading the newspaper, I would have thought, oh, this is a local guy. And he didn't know what size to do it, but I also would think, but it's also the funniest strip on the page,
Michael: but he does get his name in there and nobody else does on top.
Jimmy: Wow. That's right. Nobody else has a byline. It's just Gasoline Alley, Brenda Starr, et cetera. But this is Peanuts by Schulz.
Michael: Yeah, Well, it's possible. It's possible the creative geniuses of these strips went on other things. Gasoline Alley was probably the most innovative strip ever back in the twenties.
Jimmy: Brilliant strip, innovative in the sense that it aged characters up, but also did spectacular visual things. There's the famous..
Michael: The color was amazing
Jimmy: if you, yeah, if you're a fan of comics or comic strips and or if this podcast is interested you and going backwards and looking at some old comic strips dig up the Smithsonian book of newspaper comics, which has reprints of all of the great strips like Harold was saying.
Little Orphan Annie is in there, a great Popeye, great Floyd Godfreddson and Mickey Mouse stories in there, and a nice sampling of Gasoline Alley. And the color that they were doing in early to mid century newspaper comics was beautiful stuff. Beautiful.
Harold: Yeah. And, and just to, for those who can't see this with us, this Peanuts strip is maybe 50 to 60% of the area of these other strips.
I mean, it is tiny. And it reads and you know, it, but it doesn't, it does, it looks like it doesn't fit. Why is it there? It's a. It's just an anomaly. It's like this thing is going to take over the comic strip world in a number of years, feels like it doesn't belong.
Jimmy: I would love to. I might just for my own amusement go in and in Photoshop and reduce the other comics and put them underneath the Peanuts strip just to see what they would look like at that size.
I mean, Winnie Winkle, there would be a black smudge. Harold Teen looks, he almost looks like it's drawn by Robert Crumb. There's like a snoid vibe to that. It's very disturbing. Here's the other thing is
Harold: it has a Harold Gray Little Orphan Annie vibe too, with a there's no eyes in the spectacles of the man speaking to Harold Teen.
There's definitely, there's definitely a. Someone is copying probably the most popular strip in the Tribune roster.
Jimmy: It does not-- When we say it has the vibe of those artists, it it is of a lower tier, certainly.
Harold: Well, and this is not the original artist. It's pretty clear that somebody took this over at some point,
Jimmy: Right. Cause this has been going on for decades, but 1950. Right?
Michael: But somebody made the editorial decision to make Peanuts small. And by having that long horizontal logo on top, it eats up a lot of the room. So you could have increased the size of the strip considerably by getting rid of it,
Jimmy: Yeah, then you wouldn't be able to get that extra half column of Goren on bridge, right.
Which Is what it's all about.
Harold: Yeah. It's just as shoehorned in there. But as, as
Michael: It’s almost like they they had, well, we've got this little space to feel, let's use this Schulz strip
Harold: And that's how they sold these strips. Right? They, the United Features syndicate, bought it as a space saving strip. That's what they had in mind.
There must have been talk about that. That people are like, well, I'm not going to buy a-- take up that much real estate because you imagine when you're printing how many hundred thousand copies of this newspaper, and you add up that real estate of, of ink and, and in newsprint, you know, the cost of printing Gasoline Alley was, you know, it was 60, 70% more than the cost of printing Peanuts.
And yet you got one more feature in there that if people liked it they would be more likely to buy the Tribune so that, as we mentioned, I think in the first episode news print prices went through the roof after after world war II. And were still pretty crazy. And so, you know, it's, it is so weird to think that this strip that we love so much was part of a strategy to sell something simply on its diminutive size.
You know, that's, that's it, you know, that that was the selling point. And that's why I think only seven papers picked it up because people weren't thinking of it. They were, they were being sold as you want something that's not gonna take up much space? Buy this. It wasn't to buy this amazingly clever new sophisticated strip, featuring little children who, who speak more more intelligently than you might expect a child to in a comic strip. It doesn't even seem like it was part of the conversation. It was just like, yeah. You want to save space, add another strip, right. Use Peanuts.
Michael: Yeah. And it does stand out at that size. That might've been a selling point too. Yeah.
Cause that was the original question is how did this spare style fit in, in, in the world of the newspapers. And you can see here it's all clutter. So your eye kind of goes to the white space.
Jimmy: It sure does. It sure does. Cause the other, the other strip I'm attracted to looking at it as Gasoline Alley and that's also the one with the most white space of these particular daily strips.
Harold: What I would love to know is those, those first seven papers that picked it up, given that there was a bit of time before we really get into the Schulz that we know, did any of them drop it?
Jimmy: Oh yeah. I bet they had to be there had to be. I'm sure we could find that out. Here's since I have a question, I don't know if there's an answer for this Harold, but you said there was a, these are all Tribune syndicate strips.
Why didn't they then make their artists draw it in a format that they wouldn't have to adjust the first panel? You know, I be like, that's, that's someone in production going in and cutting the, cut the panel of Gasoline Alley and lowering it so that they can fit the word Gasoline Alley.
Harold: If I'm right about this and I could be wrong and maybe someone knows more about this than, than I do, but again, this is, it appears that at least the strips that I had seen of little orphan Annie from the thirties and forties that were in this book called Aarf: the Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie-- amazing collection that came out in the seventies.
They may have been pulling from photostats that that the, that the Tribune paper itself made for it. And even, even may, maybe that's not the way it looked in most of the other newspapers, but my thought is it's clear that every single one of these strips, they, the artist was told don't put something in that, that upper left corner ‘cause we are going to paste in this, this the slug line of the name of your strip, but they don't leave it to the artist. And probably because they wanted it to be done consistently. Right. So that's probably what happened is that they said, you know, leave it open. We're the ones that are going to drop in that.
We're going to make a photostat of this thing. We'll have hundreds of sheets that say Gasoline Alley, Brenda Starr, Winnie Winkle. And that's the job of the person in the layout department to lay it in. And it's not very well done. There's some weird lines at the bottom. It's not terribly consistently done itself by whoever pasted it in, but it's clearly not done by the artist, but I'm guessing it was for some form of consistency.
That's that's not. You don't do that, that that's done in the in the paste up department at the newspaper. But I don't know.
Jimmy: I don't know if this is interesting to anyone, but my first job was working in a production department of a magazine. It was a TV Guide competitor that actually was older than TV guide was called TV Host.
And we would have to put together these magazines for every cable system that subscribed, right? So there was like 50 different versions of TV Host, depending on what and where you lived and what cable company you had. So you would have a sheet of paper and it would say like one quarter BET one quarter MTV, half page HBO ad or whatever.
And you would have to go and get little contact prints made from negatives of all these various components. And then you'd have to cut them out and run them through a waxing machine and literally sit there with a T square and an Exacto knife on a light board and glue every component to a sheet of base paper that had grids on it.
So when someone is composing for a newspaper, that's what it is. There was no computer sitting there. allowing you to adjust letting and kerning and all that stuff. Everything had to be typeset printed out on this like almost plastic feeling paper is stuff that you could then wax and cut literally with Exacto knives and, you know, black tape for the, for the borders and stuff like that.
It's an extremely tedious, tedious process. And gosh, when you're looking at the amount of just info, they are cramming into this comic or this newspaper. It's a crazy amount of work in this production department. I do not envy them.
Harold: No, I, I did some of that stuff myself and it, it, it was a ton of work and it is amazing how much information is on these pages.
Now I'm looking at it on a, on a screen. Tabloid newspapers, I mean the ones we see now, it they're, they're so narrow. They keep making the width of the newspaper, narrower and narrower and narrower. This paper would have been gigantically wide. I mean insanely wide. I don't know how many inches it would have been, but you you've seen the old TV shows and movies where, where, when someone's reading the paper at the breakfast table and they're just, they've just disappeared behind a wall.
It's a wall. It's crazy. It's like a billboard, but yeah. And the fact that these are all Tribune strips and somehow, you know, the non-owned strip of the Tribune, somebody said, Hey, I'm going to pick up Peanuts is, is pretty cool.
Jimmy: It's very cool. Should we read one more? Should we do when you, I don't want to read Gasoline Alley because I don't want to disparage Gasoline Alley and say that by reading this that's Gasoline Alley, but I'll disparage Winnie Winkle.
October 2nd, 1950, I assume Winnie Winkle is standing in her apartment and the phone rings. She says to herself, “Aunt Bessie is certainly acting very mysteriously. She seems to be going around in another world.” Winnie picks up the phone and says, “and she spends more time in the beauty parlor than here in the shop. Hello?” The voice on the phone says “hello, er is Elizabeth there?” Winnie says “Elizabeth? Oh, you mean Bessie? er why no, sir. She's not. Any message?” “Er, no. er I'll call her back later.” Click. Winnie turns to the audience and says, “well, maybe this isn't such a mystery.”
Michael: I don’t get it.
So Winnie Winkle is a bit of a continuity strip, I guess, with an attempt at a joke
Harold: It ran for 76 years, somebody liked it.
Jimmy: 76 years! Winnie Winkle. Nobody understands that about comics, too. These things were legacy. Some of them are passed down from father to son, or sometimes like in Prince Valiant’s case passed down from father to someone that he liked better than his son.
But yeah. You know, I mean, in my paper growing up, we had Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, and it was called Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. I don't think Barney Google had been in it for 50 years at that point.
Harold: Well, this Winnie Winkle,it started 1920, and this would have been the 31st year that Martin Branner was doing the strip.
He did it for 40, from 20 to 62, and then two other artists did it up until 1996. Pretty crazy.
Jimmy: Okay. And then if we just turn the page, we can see there's an ad for something called Girl Gangs. Does anyone have any idea what this is?
Michael:I can't read the, i
Jimmy: It looks like the most thrilling thing....
Harold: Yeah, it looks, it looks like illustration from a, you know, it would be a lurid paperback.
It says the heart shocking truth about a new teenage terror, bobby soxers with brass knuckles and knives who fight for their boyfriend’s favors girl gangs.
Jimmy: Girl gangs.
Michael: Coming soon to a local motion picture screen.
Jimmy: It doesn't say what it is. I mean, that's really weird. It's just gives a description of whatever this story is, but it doesn't tell you, is it a book? Is it a radio play? What is it?
Harold: Did that get cut off or they certainly don't spend a lot of space on it
Michael: unless it's continued on the next page.
Jimmy: Really strange.
Michael I don't know if it's an ad or a story
Jimmy: well, I don't think an ad would be contained or is it a story who knows? It's a mystery. If anyone knows what Girl Gangs is all about from 1950, you can find us at unpackingpeanuts.com, send us an email or find us on our social media at unpackPeanuts on Instagram and Twitter.
And I think that's where we're going to leave it with bobby soxers with brass knuckles. Guys, this has been…
Michael: Oh, I know who would be in girl gangs, Patty and Violet
Jimmy: you know what, is one, a blonde and one, a brunette? Maybe it is Patty and Violet. That's it.
Well, this has been fun. Do you guys have any last words on the first half of the 50’s?
Harold: No. thanks for taking the journey with us and look forward to a new season starting in 1956.
Jimmy: 1956. It's when it all starts really clicking. We're going to say that every year, every year now this is the best year of Peanuts.
This has been a thrill for me. I am so happy I get to do this podcast. I'm so happyI get to do it with my pals. Michael and Harold, and I am so grateful for Liz for all of your help as the producer of this thing. It would not happen without her stepping up and doing an insane amount of work. So if you guys are enjoying this and you like listening to us, three knuckleheads ramble on spare thought for Liz, ‘cause she's, she's the one making it happen. So guys come back in two weeks, 1956 until then I'm Jimmy. For Harold and Michael. Be of good cheer.
Harold and Michael: Yes, be of good cheer.